Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Why is it So Hard for the Poor Man to Ask for Help?

There are some powerful lessons in this week's Parshah - Behar (/Bechukotai). One of the most powerful teachings of the Torah appears in this week's portion - speaking about the importance of charity to others. 

Those who have seen a "beggar" (a term which strips a human being from all his dignity) often wonder how it can come about that a person should "lower" themselves to such a state. How did they get there? - people ask. They see the man lying on the ground with an old blanket around him. In front of him lies a plastic cup or a dish - practically empty, save for a few kind donations of the smallest of coins. 

Here lies a human being, but he has lost hope in life. What ever brought him to this? He tries to sleep as much as he can - just to pass the time until perhaps he will die... He waits for enough money to collect in the dish with the hope that he will be able to afford a loaf of bread and a glass of water - if he is lucky. It may take the entire day for this to happen - as passersby visit the most expensive of clothing shops / cellphone shops / "collectables" shops - and other "necessary" stores near to the man lying on the ground - on the list for the day, where the most vital of things should be purchased.

Our Parshah tells us the story. It once happened that here was a man filled with dignity. He was clean, smelled good, had a smile - and even laughed at things in life. Believe it or not - a human being - just like us! He must have given something to society at some point in time. It is just inconceivable that he did not. That is just how life works. As Ben Azzai in Pirkei Avot (4:3) teaches: "Despise no man, for there is no man who does not have his hour and no man who does not have his place."

This dignified man got along with life - moving and trying to do whatever he could. As time went on, he was not supported by others in the work and effort that he did. People did not buy from him. People did not hire his service. People would bargain with the man to get the service and goods he provided at bargain prices - often smiling to their relatives when they left - remarking at the good deal they had got! He continued on. Not much later he was unable to purchase new garments for himself. He could not even afford a new pair of spectacles he was much in need of! 

He felt it better to try to get some business - even at a loss - rather than to beg and ask others for help. With time, he could not even have a shower - because he could not afford to rent an apartment. Owning one - was not even something that appeared in his dreams... His diet - though once healthy - progressed to buying the barest minimum - eventually settling for just one meal a day (perhaps.) People began to detest the man, feeling he did not look good (now), he smelled bad. Why should they support him?! He had become a liability to society now. Why - he didn't even pay his taxes!

And then it happened. He gave up. He gave up on himself. He gave up on society. He gave up on life. Right there and then, he took the only blanket he had left, together with his last plastic cup - and he sat himself down on a business thoroughfare road somewhere. There were thousands of people walking by every day. Maybe someone would help. Really help! Get him on his feet again! Get him out of the debt he now owed... But the people walk by. They can only see a "beggar" - someone who does not contribute to society in any way. Why should anybody really take an active interest in his life? After all, three are considered dead anyway, the poor, the childless and the blind (Nedarim 64b). The poor man (and anyone who is this - knows well this feeling) is literally the walking dead.

The Torah is sensitive. There should never be a situation of a person having to become a "beggar". Let him become a professional, a person who is able to take care of himself (See Rambam's hierarchy of laws of charity - with the highest level being to give in order to help the other to be able to support himself.) Here is a person with talents and skills - and a soul... A person who can make a difference to others. But today - he sits with a cup in front of him because he has given up, because he may well never have even been given a chance!

Here the Torah teaches us - when we see the other falling - even before he stretches out his hand to ask - step in, make the difference to him NOW(!) before it is too late. When we give when the other is still stable - but in need - we do far better than when we give when the other has already fallen. Then... then it becomes practically impossible to get him up again. His dignity has been destroyed. His life's possessions have been taken away from him. The banks have closed his accounts, never to allow him to open them again(!)... His name has been ruined! The donkey has fallen / the load has fallen. It has become impossible to ever get it up again...

So many people walk around saying they are "good people". Many say how much they can relate to the man-man commandments, though they don't believe in God's commandments. Here is one of the ultimate tests. Here - we are faced with a person who seems - in our eyes - to be someone who is worth nothing (God forbid). So much so, we feel it is *his* duty to take care of himself - to get a job (whatever line we want to use - to let us off the hook from helping the other.) But now - we must come to the rescue and help the other - no matter what. We just cannot let them fall - because then... then, it will be too late. Too little... too late...

For those who don't know, I personally support myself only through Torah teaching on this site and my main site www.lovingkindness.co. It is not easy to find people willing to pay the amounts I need in order to live(!) and really, I too rely upon those who value Torah teaching and outreach - to help me to continue my own path in life. I am also a professional photographer (some of my pictures - for sale - can be seen here). People can purchase those photos - or hire me as their photographer for photography in Jerusalem. If you have valued any of my posts - please consider helping me to progress in the path I have chosen for myself, so that I too may never collapse like the load of a donkey.

There are donate buttons on this page as well as my main website. Please let others know. Share this post with others who may be able to offer help in any way.

Eliyahu Shear
Rabbi, author and editor, photographer, graphic designer - so much to offer...

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